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Making the most of outside talent.

Making the Most of Outside Talent

When he took the helm at General Electric in 1981, chairman John F. Welch Jr. inherited six speech writers. He fired five. Today "Neutron (spare the buildings, nuke the people) Jack," as exstaffers unfondly dubbed him, is hardly unique. Over the past half decade, corporate chiefs have scrutinized their communicaiton departments--the people responsible for sales promotions, special events, public relations, employee and customer publications--and with astonishing frequency, have opted to take them off the payroll.

Consultants Step in

Maria Simpson, Ph.d., of TIAA-CREF, the teacher's financial services organization, regards corporate communication as only the latest of the major staff empires to be divested. "Like strategic planning, executive hiring, training, even food services, corporate communciation has become the province of outside professionals," she says.

Dick Lopez, founder of 5 9 25 Inc. Design Collaborative in New York, has observed that inside managers identify projects, hire experts, serve as liaison between them and the organization, and keep the corporate image consistent from project to project. "They generally do not have art or copy skills themselves," Lopez says.

An expanding, more capable consultant force allows this. Simpson explains that most large companies consider vendors an everyday part of their activities. "Organizations that once retained consultants to gain specialized skills, an outside perspective on a problem, or to augment internal departments, temporarily now use them as a permanent substitue for staff functions," she says.

The Take Charge Vendor

In many corporations, only one senior officer remains to oversee programs. "But when the head of the one-person department has won the title by default, and is not a professional communicator," Simpson warns, "the person in charge will need more than project support, something on the order of a course in the art and science and promotions."

The lone officer may persevere, thanks, in no small part, to new skills and attitudes today's consultants bring to their work. Phyllis Marshall of The Marshall Communications Group in New York City, adds, "The customer really values a take charge vendor now especially if the company person is new to the field. They produce more effective results per budget dollar by steering clients away from unneeded or overly complicated programs." Consultants today are familiar with needs analysis and alert to problem-solving opportunities. Marshall adds, "A consultant can create a corporate-wide communication audit and action plan, including ways to integrate and economize on diverse consulting tasks."

Lopez sees in the current approach a return to earlier ideas of what consultants were intended to be. "In the '50s, visionaries such as Eliot Noyes (see page 30) defined the consultant function very broadly. They were superb designers to be sure. But they also helped to show clients the potential implicit in good, coordinated design. The consultant of today is reviving the original mandate, to offer creative, objective solutions and resource management. We must have both abilities to be viable in this environment."

The Business-Bred Consultant

In the New York area, consultants are almost universally college-trained. They area, on average, six-and-a-half years older; have worked in communication over eight years longer; and earn $17,000 more annually than their staff counterparts, reports a 1987 NY/IABC compensation survey, coauthored by Robert Adler, assistant manager of government relations at Insurance Services Office, Inc. Adler has employed designers and writers frequently. "These people are business-bred," he says. "They received degrees in a communication specialty, but spent years on the inside before becoming independent."

Management consultant and strategist John Hall has observed that seasoned communicators and PR executives often resurface as consultants following early retirement or "golden handshake" termination settlement. "They've dealt with corporate inner workings for a good part of their lives, and they remember what they liked and disliked about vendors. Such consultants approach jobs with a unique point of view--the customer's," he says.

Besides possessing strong credentials in financial, investor and public relations, product marketing and advertising, and exceptional design or writing skills, the new business-oriented consultant:

* produces good work within budget constraints and knows that important projects may well be under-funded. He or she is, after all, often the product of a corporate cost-cutting drive.

* understands deadlines--that the customer's due states change with the demands of the internal clients, superiors and overlapping project priorities--and has the resource flexibility to deliver on short notice.

* has adopted computer, facsimile and other production and telecommunications technologies to hold expenses down, reduce turnaround time at various project stages and keep in close contact with the customer.

* respects corporate hierarchy and politics, and can help a client improve his or her professional image while satisfying higher-ups.

* knows where to find specialists with skills beyond his or her own, and when to seek them out.

* has probably been burned in a corporate shuffle or by an unscrupulous boss at least once, goes to great lengths to please a demanding, intelligent client, but will not tolerate a bully.

Adler looks for another corporate experience-related asset. "I expect consultants to be able to grasp the essentials of my industry fast or--if I'm lucky--know them already. They have to understand data and not be afraid of numbers. The good ones all are quick studies."

Margaret E. Ditmars is an independent business writer, serving corporations in the New York tri-state area. Her work has appeared in numerous financial, trade and syndicated publications.
COPYRIGHT 1989 International Association of Business Communicators
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles on tips for finding a consultant and the collaboration of Eliot Noyes with Thomas Watson at IBM
Author:Ditmars, Margaret E.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Dec 1, 1989
Previous Article:Custom publishing: is it cost-effective?
Next Article:Read it and believe it.

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